The good news is that the loss of strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance aren't inevitable. The National Institute on Aging believes that "when older people lose their ability to do things on their own, it doesn't happen just because they have aged. More likely it is because they have become inactive." (Exercise: A Guide from the National Institute on Aging)
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Crunch: It presents the same problem as the leg press. You flatten your lower back against the floor as you raise your head and shoulders and feel the squeeze in your abdominal muscles, then go back into an arch when you lower yourself. Although you aren’t using much weight when you do it—just a fraction of your body’s weight—you typically do lots of repetitions.
I don't think anyone can argue with the idea that exercise is good for you, no matter what your age, and importantly, that it's never too late to start. I started this article with a quote and would like to finish with one as well. It's by Dr. George Sheehan. Dr. Sheehan was a cardiologist, who, in the 1970s, at the age of 45, decided to turn around his health and his life. He caught the running bug and started to train, compete, and run marathons. He quickly became an expert on the subject and started writing weekly fitness columns in local newspapers. He was medical editor for Runner's World magazine for 25 years; he counseled his patients on the virtues of exercise; and he lectured internationally. He wrote eight books about running, fitness, and health, and he played a key role in promoting the running boom of the 1970s. He was philosophical about winning, losing, suffering, meditation, training, and working through pain, and he would quote the likes of William James for inspiration. In 1986, Dr. Sheehan was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread to his bones by the time he was diagnosed. He hung on courageously for seven more years, running and competing up until the end of his life. He died in 1993, just four days short of his 75th birthday. Dr. Sheehan had the following to say about his experience with running and with life. "No matter how old I get, the race remains one of life's most rewarding experiences. My times become slower and slower, but the experience of the race is unchanged: each race a drama, each race a challenge, each race stretching me in one way or another, and each race telling me more about myself and others."
Many of the problems that older people have are due to weaknesses caused by inactivity rather than a chronic disease, and a physical training program can have a wide variety of benefits that aren’t just physical. Older patients may socialize more frequently, take care of themselves, get out in the community, and experience more thanks to improved confidence!
How might fitness and more brain tissue help you? Researchers have found that the fittest elders had the highest scores on tasks like coordination, scheduling, planning, and memory. And in a recent study of 1,740 adults older than 65, researchers found that the incidence of dementia in individuals who walked three or more times per week was 35% lower than those individuals who walked less than three days per week.
You guessed it. It decreases. The good news is that some studies, but not all, show improvements in flexibility when individuals engage in exercise programs that involve stretching exercises. Unfortunately, the studies on flexibility in the aging population aren't as complete as they are for studies of strength and endurance, but the studies do suggest that significant improvements in the range of motion of various joints (neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, and ankle) can occur when stretching exercises are prescribed. It's just that it isn't clear how much flexibility training older adults should do to maintain good range of motion and joint function.
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